Tell No Tales
I had to give this one a little time before I wrote it. It was important to let those involved grieve and process what happened without one more person adding their opinion. I want to send my best wishes to all of the incredibly talented and dedicated people who lost their livelihoods from yet another sudden studio closure. In a situation that has become far too common, hundreds of families went from the security of full-time employment at a famous company to complete uncertainty. Though I’ve never experienced those exact circumstances, I will never forget the harrowing feeling of losing a job and not knowing how I would provide for my loved ones. I hope you all are doing okay.
I left Telltale in early 2017 after nearly three years, and it was my first real job in the industry. In the time I was there, I worked on some really cool projects and grew tremendously, both personally and professionally. The pace of production was extremely fast, which has been recounted in several recent interviews and articles, which had its positives and negatives. While I was rarely proud of the quality of animation that I was able to produce at such a speed, I got a tremendous amount of practice through repetition. And though I ultimately had little control over the final look of the games, I chose to instead appreciate the parts of the process that I was in control of, and detach from it once my job was done. This is in no way meant to disparage any other artists, but the system just was not designed in a way that was conducive to a high level of polish. As long as the games were great, that’s what mattered.
The fundamental problem came when making great games began to take a back seat to making more games at an unsustainable pace. The fact that so many games got finished and released at all is a testament to the dedication of every artist there. Overworked and under-paid, the troops on the ground got the company out of many self-inflicted crises, routinely working late into the night all week long. The cinematic artists who came last in the process were hit especially hard when crunch inevitably came, and due to the cadence of release schedules, crunch was nearly constant. As it tried to compensate, I witnessed the studio grow three times in size in less than a year. I saw many of the same signs from when I was at a company who aggressively expanded only to have everything fall apart due to near-sightedness and greed, and decided it was probably a good time to leave. I had hoped I was wrong.
It’s important to remember that nothing, in this industry especially, is permanent. Through no fault of their own, artists can find themselves inheriting the problems of their employers and paying the price. No matter how great your company may be, don’t make the mistake of trusting it to have your best interests at heart. Those in charge may well have, but leaving yourself without a backup plan if things change is risky. We’ve seen time and time again studios that were thought to be stable and thriving disappear in an instant. Their employees likely saw a long future that included stability, advancement and even retirement. Instead they found a locked door and no explanation. So while your coworkers, supervisors, and executives may be wonderful people with all the right intentions, the shareholders are ultimately in charge of the fate of the company and its payroll. Never forget that. Keep a “rainy day” fund and your eyes open.
Before we go, I want to express the love I still have for the people I worked with at Telltale. It really did feel like a family, and being around them was the real joy of working there. We played together, ate together, shared thousands of GIFs (totally work-related), and helped each other become better artists. I still miss them. There was just something about the atmosphere, and when things got hard, we banded together tighter. In contrast to what I said about companies, I think the opposite is true when it comes to your peers. Lean into those relationships and make them last. Be there for each other and celebrate your time together. I’ve seen a wonderful camaraderie emerge since the closing of Telltale. Because they all became friends, they have been helping each other get back on their feet, and it’s inspiring to witness. This industry is small, and those lifelong connections are invaluable. I hope that each one of them finds this situation to be a blessing in disguise. The journey takes many twists and turns, but it has a funny way of working out for the best. Good luck to all of you.